Early voting ended Monday afternoon in a Benton County vote on whether to fund local ambulance services in rural areas. Some emergency crews are warning they could have to cut off some rural areas if the proposed ambulance fee does not pass.
On the eve of the county's Election Day, set for Tuesday, 899 voters had cast their ballot early on the ambulance fee issue. Early voting results will be released Tuesday night after polls close at 7:30 p.m., according to the Benton County Circuit Clerk's Office.
Polls open at 7:30 a.m.
There are seven service providers that provide ambulance services to the unincorporated parts of Benton County. Arkansas state laws say cities can provide services outside of their city limits if there is a contract in place for them to be reimbursed. Over the past three years, the county has paid some money to the cities, but city officials say it’s just not enough to keep the rural service going.
Benton County Judge Bob Clinard said the cost for rural ambulance services in Benton County could reach $1.2 million by 2016. Clinard said to reimburse city providers for the availability of ambulance services, households in unincorporated areas will have to pay an annual $85 fee. Clinard said the fee is based on the estimate for 2016.
About 19,500 unincorporated households will decide whether or not to support the permanent funding mechanism Tuesday. Travis Key said he does not support the fee.
“I think it’s ridiculous when we spend all of our tax money in the towns and we do all of our shopping in the towns,” he said. “They already get money from us. I think it’s ridiculous to impose another tax on top of that.”
Josh Mann said he believes residents in rural areas should pay for EMS services.
“It makes sense to me for them to get their money from the homeowners instead of the state,” he said.
Steve Helms lives outside of city limits in Siloam Springs and said he supports the fee.
"EMS service is not free," he said. "It's not a right that everybody has, because not everybody is necessarily paying for it in taxes or other dollars spent. I think $85 is reasonable."
If the vote fails, Siloam Springs, one of the seven providers in the county, is prepared to cease EMS services, according to the city.
The Board of Directors passed a resolution to discontinue service to unincorporated parts of Benton County if the reimbursement is not met. Some residents said that’s just not right.
“That puts people in a tough spot, especially emergency services,” said Key. “I mean are you going to really let somebody sit out there and bleed to death in a ditch? I don’t agree with that at all.”
Bronson Nelson lives in Siloam Springs and said the fate of EMS services is not in his hands. It's up to the other several thousand voters who will decide on election day.
"If you vote you can't really be mad it it gets passed or doesn't get passed, because you have a say in this."
If the vote passes, Clinard said the annual fee would go into effect this year. People would have until Oct. 15 to pay it.